Edward Kienholz, The Friendly Grey Computer — Star Gauge Model #54 Consists of Aluminum painted rocking chair, metal case, instrument boxes with dials, plastic case containing yellow and blue lights, panel with numbers, bell, “rocker switch”, pack of index cards, directions for operation, light switch, telephone receiver, motor, and doll’s legs (All Photos By Gail)
“I really began to understand any society by going through its junk stores and flea markets,” remarked artist Edward Kienholz. “I can see the results of ideas in what is thrown away by a culture.” Here, Kienholz incorporates such discarded materials into a hybrid construction — a machine with human physical traits (such as dial “eyes” and toy doll legs) and emotions. Claiming to interpret language but in fact programmed to emit information randomly, The Friendly Grey Computer (1965) speaks to the faith that we place in technology, despite its obvious limitations. Kienholz intended for viewers to interact with the work and included a set of detailed instructions for operation, as follows:.
Place master switch in the off position. Plug computer into power supply. Print your problem on yellow index card provided in rack. Word your question is such a way that it can be answered by a simple yes or no. IMPORTANT: Next, program computer heads (C-20 and G-30) by setting dials in appropriate positions. You are now ready to start machine.
Throw the master switch to on setting. Red bulb on main housing and white tube on C-20 will light indicating computer is working. Remove Phone from rack and speak your problem into the mouthpiece exactly as you have written it on your index card. Replace phone in rack and ding dinger once. Under NO circumstances should you turn computer off until answer has been returned. Flashing yellow bulb indicates positive answer. Flashing blue bulb indicates negative answer. Green jewel button doesn’t light, so it will not indicate anything.
Computers sometimes get fatigued and have nervous breakdowns, hence the chair for it to rest in. If you know your computer well, you can tell when it’s tired and sort of blue and in a funky mood. If such a condition seems imminent, turn rocker switch on for ten or twenty minutes. Your computer will love it and will work all the harder for you. Remember that if you treat your computer well, it will treat you well. When answer light has stopped flashing, turn master switch to off position. Machine will now recycle for the next question. Repeat procedure from the beginning.
While the work is now in too fragile a condition to permit visitor interaction, the computer is presented here in the on position with its bulbs illuminated, and will be rocked daily.
Ed Kienholz (October 23, 1927 – June 10, 1994) is acknowledged as a pioneer of is now known as installation art and assemblage art. The Friendly Grey Computer was photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.